Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Court of Appeal Upholds Life Sentence for Teenage Robber
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A sentence of 32 years to life imprisonment for a defendant who shot a woman in the face while trying to steal her truck when he was 15 years old did not violate the Eighth Amendment, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Two Monday affirmed the sentence imposed on Andrew Edward Garcia by a Riverside Superior Court judge. The panel held that Penal Code §3051, by guaranteeing the defendant a parole hearing during his 25th year of incarceration, satisfies state and federal high court rulings requiring individualized consideration of sentences for juveniles tried in adult courts and convicted of serious crimes.
The victim of the 2011 robbery attempt, Maria Mendiola, testified that she had first seen a man—whom she later identified as Garcia from a police photo—and woman hugging outside a hair salon that Mendiola owns. The two later approached her truck, she said, and Garcia pulled out a gun.
‘Do I Shoot Her?’
Garcia demanded she get out of the truck, she said, and threatened to shoot her. When she refused to get out and give him the keys to the truck, he asked the female “Do I shoot her?” and the female said “yes” before Garcia shot Mendiola in the face. Mendiola then drove to safety before being taken, bleeding, to the emergency room by ambulance.
Charged as an adult because he was over the age of 14 and personally used a firearm in the commission of the crime, Garcia—who took Mendiola’s cellphone from her hand before he shot her— was found guilty of attempted first degree murder and robbery. Jurors also found that he personally discharged a firearm, causing great bodily injury, and that he caused great bodily harm.
Retired Judge Ronald W. Johnson, writing for the Court of Appeal, sentenced Garcia to 35 years to life in prison, including enhancements.
The Court of Appeal struck a three-year enhancement for causing great bodily harm, saying it should have been stayed because it cannot be imposed in addition to the enhancement for discharging a firearm causing great bodily injury, but otherwise affirmed.
The defense argued that the sentence violated constitutional principles laid out in Miller v. Alabama (2012) 132 S.Ct. 2455, and People v. Caballero (2012) 55 Cal.4th 262. Those rulings require that aggravating and mitigating factors, specific to the crime and to the defendant, be considered before a juvenile may be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or to an equivalent term (the defendant in Caballero was sentenced to 110 years to life.)
It was after those rulings that the Legislature enacted §3051, which requires a “youth offender parole hearing” in any case in which the offender was less than 18 when a crime not resulting in a life-without-parole sentence was committed. California law had already required consideration of aggravating and mitigating circumstances by the trial judge before an LWOP sentence could be imposed for a crime committed while a juvenile.
The effect of §3051, Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez wrote Monday, is to give defendants such as Garcia the individualized sentencing consideration that Miller and Caballero require. Ramirez noted, however, that the issue is pending before the California Supreme Court.
“Pending a ruling on this issue by the State’s highest judicial authority, we conclude that section 3051 specifically and sufficiently addresses these concerns regarding cruel and unusual punishment,” Ramirez wrote. “This is because section 3051 has in effect abolished de facto life sentences in California.”
The jurist went on to reject the defense argument that the sentence violated the state Constitution, distinguishing People v. Dillon (1983) 34 Cal.3d 441.
In Dillon, the justices overturned the life sentence imposed on a 17-year-old convicted under the felony-murder rule, finding the statutory sentence cruel or unusual as applied to a defendant that young, who had no prior criminal record and shot a man he thought was about to shoot him.
Here, Ramirez said, the sentence was not disproportionate to the defendant’s culpability.
Garcia, he noted, had a juvenile record involving arson and drug possession. He also said the defendant refused to take responsibility for his crime, telling the probation officer that Mendiola came from a “drug family” and “should have thought who she was sending to jail for his whole life,” expressing no regret for the injury he had caused her, and blaming his girlfriend for testifying against him.
“Defendant’s complete failure to take responsibility for having committed this horrific crime that only by a miracle failed to cause the victim’s death increases his individual culpability for the crime,” Ramirez said.
The case is People v. Garcia, 15 S.O.S. 4722.
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